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Bethlehem Native Discusses Middle East Peace

This peace was the topic of discussion last night as Marina Riadi, a native of Bethlehem, Israel, and a practicing Christian, addressed an audience of about 40 from various religious backgrounds at the Chapel Hill Friends Meeting last night.

Riadi, of the American Friends Service Committee, shared her personal experiences in the war-torn Middle East and called for creative ways to bring about unity between Palestinians and Israelis.

"My sisters and I used to hide under the staircase," Riadi said. "We didn't know if we would live through the bombings."

Riadi said her parents raised her to respect all religions, and that she grew up with close Jewish and Muslim friends. She said this attitude needs to be spread, and that awareness is the key to a lasting peace.

"No one wants to go to war against their friends," she said. "When people get to know each other, people cannot harm each other."

Riadi said that during the Intifada, a 1987 uprising against Israeli control of Gaza and the West Bank, an Israeli family went to a settlement to spend the Sabbath with Palestinian settlers. When the Israeli army learned of the family's presence, the family was commanded to leave.

"The family refused to leave and violate Jewish law by traveling home," she said. "Since they were there, the Israeli army would not bomb the settlement."

She referred to this concept as "human shields" and said distributing Palestinians and Israelis throughout contested territories will curb the violence.

"We have to take a risk," she said. "We cannot sit in silence while our fellow people are dying."

She urged members of the audience also to take action by writing letters to Congress against sending weapons to the Middle East.

"Every religion I am familiar with teaches that life is sacred," she said. "We cannot sell weapons; weapons kill."

Dennis Markatos, of Students United for a Responsible Global Environment, said Riadi's firsthand experience gave her wisdom that everyone can learn from.

"This is an important chance to learn how we can organize efforts towards peace," he said. "SURGE has involved itself by publicizing talks such as this."

Judi Friemark, also a member of SURGE, said the organization does not take sides on the issue.

"We are not for or against either state," she said. "Officially, we are pro-resolution."

Riadi concluded her talk on a grave note, saying lives will be lost if cooperation is not achieved. "If our people cannot learn to live together, I guarantee we're going to die together."

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